Catching blue crabs in living color Trend?: They may or may not tickle crustaceans' fancy, but decorative crab pots have caught the eyes of more than a few "weekend people."

September 05, 1996|By Theo Lippman Jr. | Theo Lippman Jr.,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

DAISY MARSH, DEL. — DAISY MARSH, DEL.-- And now -- decorator crab pots.

You probably haven't seen them yet, but you probably will soon. I saw my first ones this year, at a hardware store in Ocean City. They were just like the traditional crab pot that most recreational crabbers use, a two-foot by two-foot by two-foot cube of vinyl-coated wire, only instead of being black they were vivid red or shocking yellow.

I asked the sales person why the colors and she said she didn't know. I asked the fellow who runs a bait and tackle shop outside Fenwick Island, Del. I had been buying crab bait from him for years. I knew he was a former commercial crabber. But he'd never seen or heard of colored pots. Couldn't imagine the point. Maybe the crabs could spot them more easily.

I began to notice the red and yellow pots outside fishing supply shops along Delaware Route 1. Then I saw a front yard full of them in Milford, Del. A young man was selling them. His family made them. I asked him if it was true crabs could see such pots better.

No, he said, he thought they were attractive mainly to people. Especially those who crab only occasionally but like the look of them in their yards or on their decks. "You know," he said (hesitantly, suspecting I might be one), "weekend people."

I bought four. (I am an ex-weekend person; old posturings die hard.) I have found they attract crabs no better and no worse than my two black vinyl and two noncoated galvanized wire pots that were stolen from Little Assawoman Bay last fall. But I decided to investigate further. Are they just decorative or do they have some utilitarian purpose?

Naturally my first call was to Tom Horton in Hebron, Md. Tom, of course, is The Sun columnist who has written extensively about the Chesapeake in newspapers, magazine and books. Tom had never seen one and couldn't imagine their advantage. "Most commercial crabbers don't use vinyl coated pots anyway," he told me. He referred me to Larry S. Chowning of the Southside Chronicle in Urbanna, Va. He wrote the definitive "Harvesting the Chesapeake: Tools & Traditions." It has a good chapter on the origin of the crab pot and how it changed the nature of crabbing over the past 60 years.

"Never saw a colored one down here," he said. He thought about the question of purpose. "They might draw better," he said. "But commercial crabbers for the most part will never go for vinyl of any color. Vinyl pots tend to get dirty and foul up more than plain wire." Crabs don't like to go into something they can't see all the way through.

Horton also suggested I visit Crisfield and talk to Eddie Heath. He's the biggest manufacturer of crab pots (among other marine supplies) in the Chesapeake region. Red and yellow pots are stacked high and wide in the yard at Heath Crab Pots. He sells quite a few of them, but he's no fan. I ask him if the color matters.

"Yes," he says, "right here," tapping a finger to his temple. "Some crabbers think they get more crabs."

But the main thing red and yellow crab pots attract is not crabs but recreational crabbers. "Bait and tackle shops like to have them outside to catch people's eye," he said. He said he had sold colored pots to one woman who was looking for something to match her home's interior color scheme. Eddie Heath did not know the origin of the craze (if that's the right word). He gave me the number of the manufacturer of the coated wire, Riverdale Mills in Massachusetts. "They started it," he said.

Andrew Knott, vice president for sales at Riverdale, explained it this way:

They first began making the colored vinyl coated wire for Lobstermen in New England and Atlantic Canada about a decade ago. It has become the material of choice for lobster pots. His sales representatives began pushing it as crab-pot material, particularly in the crabbing areas south of here -- the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas and, especially for some reason, Louisiana.

For reasons he did know know, vinyl does not foul up in the ocean and Gulf of Mexico the way it does in the Chesapeake. And, he says, "end users" of his red and yellow vinyl wire, which is to say, crabbers, including commercial ones, tell his sales reps the brightly colored pots do do better. "We're selling more and more of it down there."

But not so much yet in the middle and lower areas of the Chesapeake. "We sell some to crab pot makers in the upper part of the bay," he said.

I called one of his big customers, Miller's Island Supply in Edgemere. Sandra Meyer said, yes they had been carrying red pots (but not yellow) for about three years. They sell quite a few. "A rumor started that red pots get more crabs," she said, "but like a lot of rumors, it probably isn't so. If there are a lot of crabs, you catch 'em. But you know rumors." I thought of Eddie Heath tapping his temple.

"Some people just buy 'em to tie up to their piers," she said. I thought of the young man in Milford. "Yeah, weekend people," I sneered.

Eddie Heath says he doubts the brightly colored pots will ever really catch on in Delmarva. He should know, but I wonder.

The number of weekend and ex-weekend people living on and near crab-infested bodies of water on the peninsula is growing. I wouldn't be surprised if decorator crab pots are not just a step to a bigger fad. Designer crab pots.

I can just see it. You go to your neighborhood bait and tackle shop. "I'd like to see something in a crab pot."

"Ah, just the accessory for that Tidewater look! All right, the Laura Ashley here is very popular, and so is the Ralph Lauren Polo model, and we're having a sale this week on the Martha Stewarts."

Pub Date: 9/05/96

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